In her inbox Monday, Anna N’Jie-Konte opened an email from the CFP Board presenting the organization's newly released annual report. Nowhere did the email specifically mention the protests continuing across the country in response to the death of George Floyd and systemic racism in America.
“My expectations are so low that I didn’t really expect better,” N’Jie-Konte, who is black, told RIA Intel.
The founder of Dare to Dream Financial Planning, an RIA in the Washington D.C. area, searched her inbox and the internet to see if any other organizations for financial advisors had either privately or publicly acknowledged the events of the past week. “I was not surprised to see that most people in the industry had not said a word about all this.”
But she was not going to be silent. “I had a very strong value instilled in me from an early age to speak up if you have to” and she was past compelled. “I’ve had enough.”
Instead of replying to the email, N’Jie-Konte shared her feedback about the CFP Board, and other organizations, publicly Monday afternoon on social media.
“Hello @CFPBoard @CFPBoardmedia I know that diversity and inclusion in our profession is important to you. I have not seen you issue a statement regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd's death. It's important to know an org I am part of affirms the value of every life. Please advise,” she wrote on Twitter.
Today, the CFP Board “focused on communicating an internal message to all CFP Board staff that addressed the tragic death of George Floyd and the subsequent nationwide events of the past week,” the organization said in an email to RIA Intel. It plans to issue a public statement on Wednesday.
Other CFP certification holders also called for the organization to acknowledge the death of George Floyd and protests. Observers wanted the same from the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, or NAPFA, the Financial Planning Association, or FPA, and others. Together, the three organizations have thousands of members. As of May, there were over 87,000 CFP certification holders in the U.S.
“NAPFA has not issued a statement, but plans to do so soon. We’re dealing with very serious issues and we want to make a substantive statement that can be supported by future action. Hollow words issued in expediency will not move the needle,” Geoffrey Brown, CEO of NAPFA, said in a message to RIA Intel. The coming statement will reflect that NAPFA “stands with the members and communities impacted by systemic racism and the recent events,” he added.
In its statement, FPA said, "In these extraordinary times, the Financial Planning Association stands with those in communities across the country who don’t feel heard, respected, embraced or supported...We must work to throw open the doors of the profession to build a more supportive, inclusive community that embraces and nurtures professionals of all races, religions, creeds, genders and sexual orientations. Every FPA member is valued."
“I think silence is not acceptable, particularly in the case of the CFP board that has been very vocal" about its diversity and inclusion initiatives, including an annual summit, said Danika Waddell, an advisor and CFP certification holder who recently left an RIA and is in the process of starting her own in Seattle.
But like N’Jie-Konte, Waddell was not surprised by the lack of attention paid by advisor organizations. While previously involved in her local chapter of the FPA, she took part in planning events but felt her enthusiasm for diversifying the speakers was not matched by her peers. “I seemed to be often shouting into the void on that one.”
Members of the XY Planning Network, a group of more than 1,000 fee-only financial planners co-founded by prominent advisor Michael Kitces, were asking yesterday why the organization hadn’t issued any statement before it did later in the afternoon, according to Waddell, who is part of the network.
“As your partner, you deserve to know where XYPN stands on these critical issues facing our nation, our industry, and our friends. We believe Black Lives Matter. To our Black and Brown community members: we’re sorry. We hear you. We see you. We stand with you. We are eager to be part of the change we know needs to happen, and are ready to foster that change in our industry, in our company, and in our community,” XY Planning network said in its statement.
Waddell was happy to see that the XY Planning Network made a statement quickly. She understands the need to articulate an organization’s message and for it to be taken as sincere, but organizations have to be willing to put themselves out there now. “I think the number one thing is to just say ‘we’re here’ and it’s okay to make mistakes. Nobody is perfect.”
In addition to advisor organizations, N’Jie-Konte looked to see if service providers to her RIA would acknowledge recent events. Wealthbox, a client relationship management or CRM system, issued a short statement but it was far better than nothing and a sign of it “doing right.”
Had, for example, N’Jie-Konte’s CRM failed to show its support of advisors like her and the broader protests underway, she could switch to similar software, instead. But the CFP designation is not easily replaceable and part of the reason clients seek her out. It’s “very problematic” for her, since she’s not reached a point where she would consider dropping the designation but doesn’t feel like the organization has done enough so far, she said.
Since her public call-out yesterday, some peers have reached out to her but “By and large, it has been crickets and the crickets have been very loud. I’ve made a mental note of that,” N’Jie-Konte said.
N’Jie-Konte also acknowledged that since she started her own RIA in 2019, she has been able to be more outspoken. At previous employers, which include RBC Wealth Management, Chevy Chase Trust, and AllianceBernstein, she would have had the same response to George Floyd’s death and the protests. But would she have taken to social media to directly question companies and organizations that weren’t also speaking out? She doesn’t know.
For years, N’Jie-Konte was conscious of her own appearance and outspokenness in the workplace, cautious of anything that might create disruptive tension between her and colleagues or clients. And she understands many companies and individuals are still in a similar circumstance.
“Frankly speaking, I’m in a position to speak out,” N’Jie-Konte said. “It’s hard for people to discuss race. I don’t think people are intentionally silent.”
This story was updated to include a statement from the FPA.
Clarification: This story has been updated to more accurately describe an email Anna N’Jie-Konte received. The email from the CFP Board presented the organization's latest annual report. It was not a survey request.